Is Munster rugby a charity or a business? That’s the question posed today by former Ireland and Munster wing-forward David Corkery as he looks on sadly as the province flounders from one crisis to another.
Many former stars keep their views to themselves but not Corkery who laments the fact that things have got so bad, that the province may not even qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup and with a dismal financial report waiting around the corner.
“This has come about because of the catastrophic failure of a system that needs massive overhauling,” he insists.
“There are no consequences for failure. Anthony Foley gets awarded another year’s contract. It wouldn’t happen in any other walk of life in this world with that set of results behind you. If he continues in place and makes the decisions, I can’t see the province progressing to where it should be.
"It’s common knowledge that there’s a bit of a cleanout coming in the backroom team. Who is coming in there and who is picking that back-up support? If it’s not Anthony, in my view he’s not head coach, because he is undermined 100%. It would certainly undermine me and I’d be gone. I’d rather live or die by the sword I wield than have somebody put structures in place that I didn’t put in place.”
Point out to Corkery that the South African Razzi Erasmus is likely to be appointed Director of Rugby within the next few days and he scoffs: “Me and everyone else that loves the province wants to see a job spec. What’s his role?
"Is Anthony Foley still head coach? Who’s going to make the decisions? Is he in charge of systems? Is he in charge of structures? Or is he in charge of getting the dressing rooms painted? Is he head coach and Anthony his assistant or the other way around? We need to get clarification on that. If we don’t get it, the criticism will continue and the gate numbers will continue to decline.
“Is this guy another smokescreen? Is he going to come in and take a role like Nucifora with the IRFU, and change structures? Or is he going to go along with the same old, the same old? Whoever comes in needs to be absolutely ruthless.
"He has to be given full licence to change whatever he wants to change. That’s his job. That’s the only way things are going to change because we’re not moving with the times at the moment.
“If you go on to Twitter or Facebook, Anthony Foley is being slated, Garrett Fitzgerald is being slated,” he points out before asking rhetorically: “Are these people right or wrong? In the real world they are correct. But Munster are still living in the compassionate world. That’s the question: are we a charity or a business? At the moment, we’re a charity but it is a business.
“If only Anthony Foley had gone away like O’Gara has done and seen things outside Munster... He only knows one thing – Munster – and the Munster he knows that brought him so much success – and he was very much a part of that – is traditional, up the jersey, tight, forward-dominated stuff.
“I thought Rob Penney’s dismissal was an absolute disgrace. He was brought in to do a job. He was changing things. It wasn’t going to happen overnight. When his wide, expansive game worked for him, it looked fantastic. The problem is we tried to go from black to white in the space of a week. He changed the system completely and people got frustrated. And then it’s always easier to blame the outsider. I think we need someone like Penney or Jake White, an external influence.”
While Corkery fully supports the opening later this year of the new provincial headquarters at the University of Limerick, he also believes the move should have come sooner.
“This should have happened, 10, 15 years ago,” he maintains. “There’s no other professional team in the world with two centres 60 miles apart. You cannot be asking guys to get up in the morning, get into their cars, travel an hour and a half to Limerick, do a two and a half hour training session and drive back to Cork again.
“Cork people might disagree but Limerick is the place. I think they made a balls of the stadium that they didn’t incorporate the whole culture there, have their gym and training centre there and incorporate the land across the road in LIT.
“If these guys want to be professional players with Munster, they move to Limerick. My belief is that it should have always been Limerick because it is the heart of Munster rugby, and I’m saying that as a Corkman. There cannot be any compassion if Munster want to progress.”
The rumour machine tells us that Munster will soon report a seriously poor financial situation and Corkery also lays the blame for that at the door of those who have run the teams for the past decade or so.
“Everything, from the academy, the structures of the underage within the schools and the clubs needs a massive overhaul,” Corkery believes.
“We became lackadaisical with all the success we had and didn’t move quickly enough with the times. There was a fulcrum of players, your Frankie Sheahans, O’Garas, Mickos, Stringers, O’Callaghans, Claw, Gaillimh, Foleys, Wallaces all retired within a close period of time and Munster didn’t have the foundations in place to cater for the next wave coming through.
“It has gone too far. There is no quick fix. Nobody is going to come into Munster rugby and say, here’s €50 million and we’ll sort this problem. We can make excuse after excuse, we can blame this and blame that. What really annoys me is coaches coming out after games and saying this referee’s decision or that decision cost us or this guy didn’t come because he was offered 50 grand more by someone else. They’re only all excuses and you hide behind them. That stuff is getting too old now.
“If these results could be transferred from a sporting field onto a spreadsheet of end of year results, then the people in the middle would not be holding on to their jobs. That’s the harsh reality.
“At the start, you couldn’t blame anybody for these things. But I do blame Garrett, Anthony, and the IRFU who hold the purse strings. If they’re not prepared to make changes, then they can’t expect the support to stay on board.
“Also, too much emphasis was put on the corporate market in the good times and now that the bad times are here, the people who couldn’t get the tickets, the true Munster supporters, have turned their backs on the team because of that.”
David Corkery on...
“I could pick a team comprised of players from all the Division One AIL teams that could easily compete with the Munster team that played Connacht on Saturday. I mean that, hand on heart.
“There is definitely a place for the academy but not for stupid, irrelevant competitions like the B&I Cup with most people not knowing or caring that the games are actually taking place. Munster argue that the level of the AIL isn’t good enough for these players to progress to European Cup rugby. But the problem is that they won’t give us the players to play week in, week out, and learn their trade in a club environment.
“The place for the academy is their strength and conditioning, their general education off the field, their nutrition, all the sub-headings that go into making a rugby player.”
“The schools are looking at other schools and they’re all getting multi-million gyms put in and so the players are naturally getting bigger.
The amount of time young fellows are spending in gyms and enhancing their body bulk is reducing the amount of skill time that is given to the game. It is becoming a confrontational type of sport and I often describe it as a bastardisation of Rugby League. It’s all crash, bang, wallop.
“When I was 12, I was probably 6 ft 1 inch and could move but I never had to pass the ball. I would run through guys or around them but it developed none of my skills. As I moved up the line, I was pigeonholed as a confrontational player because nobody had taught me to pass off my bad hand or kick the ball or sidestep or swerve. It was a case of give the ball to Corkery and let him run through them but it did nothing for me as a player.”
“They’re going to be down for the next four or five years. And unless the structures are changed, it’s not going to happen. I live my life now by the belief that if you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got. It’s getting to the stage now for me and the rest of the Munster supporters. we are getting fed up because there’s nothing emanating, nothing changing.”